Last Saturday, on yet another frigid and snow-swept day, some 20 people gathered to talk about the future fate of their farmland. As introductions were made, it became clear that every person’s family farmland situation was different, and many were complex.Yet a common undercurrent ran beneath each story and flowed out of each voice: caring for something greater than us, something that will outlive us, and if cared for, something that will sustain many more generations.
Noting that neither of his children will be returning to the family farm, one farmer said he’s now “transcending self,” looking at options, and planning for what will be best for the land he knows and loves. Like the others in the room, he was facing facts:
- Farmland is increasingly in the hands of elderly farmers, with twice as many farmers over 70 as under 30.
- Each year, more owners of farmland are not farmers. The Illinois Farm Bureau estimates that 75% of the state’s agricultural land is farmed by tenants. And landlords are aging as well: over 60% are over the age of 60, and 40% are over 70 years old.
- Investor ownership of farmland is increasing, exceeding 50% of all land in some states.
- Farmland values in Illinois have seen double digit increases over the past three years. Today, most young people simply cannot afford land, making farmland access and secure tenure the #1 barrier for new farmers.
The USDA estimates that some 70% of all US farmland will change hands in the next 10 years. Will these millions of acres of productive land continue to be farmed? And if so, who will farm it, and how?
At The Land Connection, we are working to answer those questions by training new farmers and getting many families and many hands on the land producing nutrient dense grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, and dairy products. We can move toward this vision if land owners and land inheritors, as well as their professional advisors (lawyers, financial advisors, bankers, estate planners, farm managers) realize they have options, and seek out ones that match their values, needs, and goals.
Reaching this vision will not done quickly or easily. It takes planning, exploration, and persevance. That’s why The Land Connection is now scheduling more meetings like Saturday’s, and also putting on our second year of performances of the play “Look Who’s Knockin’: A Retiring Farm Couple Wrestles with the Future of Their Farm.” We invite you to attend one of the free performances held in five central Illinois communities this March, participate in the discussion, and enjoy local foods before and after.
And we invite you to read about our Farm Transition Coaching Program, which offers targeted, personal support and options to landowners who are retiring, and to people who have inherited or expect to inherit farmland. The coach will assist landowners in identifying their values, needs, and goals, and helping to come up with a menu of options to meet those goals.
Or just contact us and start a conversation — who knows, it might be your first step toward transcendence!